DUPLESSIS (Gastineau Duplessis; Radisson, dit Duplessis), MARGUERITE (Marie-Marguerite), Indian woman of the Pawnee tribe, slave; b. c. 1718; date of death unknown.
Marguerite Duplessis, a member of the Pawnee tribe, became René Bourassa’s slave in 1726. Bourassa, partner of François-Antoine Lefebvre Duplessis Faber at Baie-des-Puants (Green Bay, Wis.), offered her to the latter’s wife, who lived in Montreal in the home of the merchant Étienne Volant* de Radisson. After Duplessis Faber’s death in 1733, Marguerite remained in the Volants’ home until the merchant’s death in 1735. Then she was sold to the merchant Louis Fornel, who in turn let Marc-Antoine Huart Dormicourt have her in 1740. According to the latter’s testimony, Marguerite Duplessis was addicted to vice, libertinage, and theft, and consequently, regretting his purchase, he decided to deport her to the West Indies to be sold there.
Before being put on a ship bound for the West Indies, Marguerite Duplessis was locked up in the prison of Quebec, where she succeeded in getting some quixotic souls interested in her sad fate, one of them being the legal practitioner Jacques Nouette. On 1 Oct. 1740 or a few days earlier Marguerite Duplessis presented a petition to Intendant Gilles Hocquart* in which she claimed that she was the natural daughter of Duplessis Faber and that since she had always lived on the territories of the king of France and was baptized, she was a free woman. This was a tendentious interpretation of the Code Noir of 1685, the royal edict of 1716, which set up a clear distinction between continental France and the colonies, Jacques Raudot*’s ordinance of 1709 legalizing slavery in the colony, and Pierre Raimbault*’s decision of 1732 authorizing the sale of a baptized slave [see Pierre]. The intendant referred the litigants to the provost court of Quebec, and on 4 Oct. 1740 this court accepted Huart Dormicourt’s arguments which demolished the slave’s petition, and ordered the practitioner Nouette to produce his client’s certificate of baptism. This document was not to the advantage of the applicant, who asked the intendant four days later for permission to appeal to the Conseil Supérieur of Quebec. On 17 October the council received the litigants and referred them to the intendant. But the sailing season was already far advanced, and Huart Dormicourt was afraid that he would have to supply food and shelter for the slave until the following autumn. He would have been ready to give Marguerite Duplessis her freedom, if the worthy souls who had upheld the slave’s cause had been willing to give him the amount he had paid for his servant.
On 20 October the intendant delivered an ordinance which recognized Marguerite Duplessis as Huart Dormicourt’s slave and rejected the appeal, sentencing her at the same time to pay costs. She was the first slave who succeeded in setting in action the whole judicial apparatus of New France.
After that we lose trace of Marguerite Duplessis. A slave with the same name took her first communion at Montreal on 13 June 1767; however, it seems more likely that after the intendant’s ordinance the slave, who through petitions, postponements, and summoning of witnesses had succeeded in delaying her departure, did in fact leave New France for the West Indies at the end of October 1740, when the sailing season was coming to an end.
[As for the biography of the Comanche Pierre, the reader should look at L’esclavage au Canada français, in which Marcel Trudel has analyzed fully the case of the Pawnee Marguerite Duplessis. m.p.]